Over the years I have joked about Indian Country being included in the Electoral College. Each tribal nation should have a vote and a say about the next president of the United States. (Of course it would have to be a much larger college. But in a country of 323 million that would make a lot of sense). Plus it would be so cool to hear the reading of votes from tribal nations.
While that’s fun to think about, the way the 2016 election map is starting to take shape, and Native American voters could actually help deliver as many as 50 electoral votes out of the 538 total. That’s because six states with a significant Native population are also close enough where every vote could be the difference.
Those states on my list: Alaska, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, North Carolina and Wisconsin. Let’s look at the numbers.
A look at the polls shows a tight race (again). The Real Clear Politics average of polls has a Hillary Clinton lead of 1.7 percent, 47.2 percent to 45.5 percent for Donald Trump. That shows that more Republicans sticking with Trump despite what would be disqualifications in any other election year. Paul Ryan’s statement captured that discomfort perfectly on Tuesday when he said, “I already voted for our nominee.” There is no name is needed in that sentence.
But in any election what matters is who votes.
According to the U.S. Election Project more than 28 million people have already done so. And, as I have written before, one number that I am interested in comes from the three states that break down returned ballots by gender. Women, so far, have cast 56 percent of the ballots in those states, up from 53 percent from four years ago. (African Americans, on the other hand, have turned in fewer ballots than when Barack Obama was a candidate.)
North Carolina has 15 electoral votes. The Census Bureau reports that 122,000 people consider themselves American Indian and 184,000 alone and in combination with other races.
The Elon University Poll shows North Carolina in a statistical tie. “Among likely voters, Clinton has 42 percent of the vote while Trump has 41.2 percent, with 8.7 percent saying they are still undecided in the race,” the poll showed.
The poll also showed that the gender gap is shrinking, with 55 percent of women voters planning to vote for Clinton, compared to 61 percent during the second Elon Poll nearly a month ago. Men continue to prefer Trump by a 56-44 split.
“North Carolina is still very much in play for both Trump and Clinton,” said Jason Husser, director of the Elon University Poll and assistant professor of political science. “The Old North State is continuing its tradition as a source of true toss-up electoral votes.”
One thing I like about the Elon Poll is that it publishes cross tabs. Most of the demographic breakdown was limited to white and black. But thirty-nine people in the poll identified themselves as “other,” at about 5.5 percent of those surveyed, but it wasn’t a big enough pool to get a sense of what the “other” is thinking.
Wisconsin polls have consistently showed a Clinton lead in the state. A recent one by Remington Research Group pegs Clinton at 46 percent, Trump at 42 percent, Gary Johnson at 4 percent, someone else at 3 percent, and 5 percent undecided. The Remington poll includes whites, African Americans, Hispanics, and the “other” in that poll is 4 percent.
Trump campaigned in Wisconsin this week and has plans to return again.
The Native vote program has been growing in the state. The Native Vote program, a partnership with Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters Institute and tribes in the state, saw turnout increase by one percent in 2012 from 2008. “But on the reservations we saw 2 percent, 6 percent, and even 14 percent increases,” the Native Vote program reported. “The Menominee reservation even reached an astounding 90 percent voter turnout, and the Lac du Flambeau and Menominee newspapers announced that they had record turnout levels.”
Polls in Nevada also reflect a dead-heat. (The average of polls show Trump with a one-half point lead.) Two Nevada tribes were successful in getting a federal court order for early voting locations and Friday nine more tribes asked for additional polling locations, according to the Reno Gazette Journal. The filing said some tribal members in remote communities had to drive 275 miles roundtrip to cast a ballot. Native Americans are about 1.6 percent of the state. But even a small percentage is important in a state that’s tied.
Arizona and New Mexico are on different paths. Both have a long tradition where the Native Vote has impacted elections.
The Secretary of State in New Mexico publishes a list of Native American precincts, detailing where the Native vote has the most numbers. But there remains a significant gap between registered voters and those who actually turnout. In 2014, some 66,000 people were registered to vote while only 26,000 cast ballots.
New Mexico, like Wisconsin, is a state where Clinton has lead for a long time, but that Trump is trying to make competitive. One challenge for the Republican is that the state’s former governor, Gary Johnson, is polling around 7 percent. Johnson was a Republican and is now the Libertarian Party nominee.
Even in New Mexico there are no polls that include Native American voters.
Arizona is a state that Democrats would like to flip, turning a reliable Republican state into a Democratic one. If that happens the coalition will include voters from tribal nations. Clinton already has a track record here. During the primary, Navajo voters picked Clinton and challenged the narrative of Indian Country’s support for Bernie Sanders by more than 17 points. Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye recently endorsed Clinton and the campaign recently said there are some 25 field organizers working to bring out Native voters.
“Tribal communities have swung a lot of elections in Arizona,” Charlie Galbraith, a member of Navajo Nation and a political adviser to both the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee said in Buzz Feed last week. “In an election that will be razor thin, getting out the vote in Navajo Nation could turn the state blue.”
And now, Alaska, the wild card.
A poll by Craciun Research showed a Clinton lead of four points, 47 to 43 percent, over Trump. That’s just one poll. And it defies the state’s recent history. Still. It makes you wonder.
Two key points: The Alaska Native vote and gender.
The poll identifies Alaska Native voters by geography. It cites “the unprecedented endorsement of Clinton by the Alaska Federation of Natives board. In the rural North and Northwest regions of the State, the poll shows Clinton is beating Trump by a margin of almost 5:1, 74 percent to 15 percent.
Second: “The gender gap is at levels not experienced in the recent past with women supporting Clinton by a margin of 17 percent.”
A shout out to Craciun Research. I love that the Alaska Native vote is measured. Would it be so across the land.
Do you ever wonder who will be the first Native American president? That answer might already be found on the ballots across the country. Where more Native Americans than ever are running for office.
Welcome to the Trahant Reports election special. I’m Mark Trahant.
You can find my blog at trahantreports.com or my work on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and, if you have an iPhone, on Apple News. Just look for Trahant Reports.
So often the stories reported about Indigenous people are defined by our challenges. These are the stories we know too well.
Instead we’re going to talk about our successes. We’ll explore how Native Americans are challenging the status quo by running for office and voting.
It’s sovereignty at the ballot box.
I’d like to report this is a record year for Native Americans running for elective office. But there’s a problem. No one has ever measured this before. We don’t have good data.
So is this a record year? Probably. Likely and why not?
Here’s the plan. I have broken this story into chapters. I’ve posted slides (they can be found on the Native Voice One website, many radio station web sites, or on my blog at trahantreports.com) Feel free to take a look at while you are listening, the visual story is one reason why I wanted to create chapters in this podcast.
Chapter one: Context
Let’s start with this number: 1.7 percent is the Census Bureau’s estimate of how many American Indians and Alaska Natives there are in this country. (There are a lot of ways you can measure the population of Native Americans. But I wanted one that would be useful because it’s found across many documents and that makes it easy to compare. It’s also the number used by the National Congress of American Indians.) So this is our baseline for discussion.
I should mention that one important election factor is that the population of American Indians and Alaska Natives is growing faster than the general population. By a wide margin. In fact, a third of all Native Americans are under the age of 18, compared to about a quarter of the total population. We are a young people. And our numbers are rising and in politics that’s everything.
And it’s not just American Indians and Alaska Natives who are changing the face of America. It’s a much larger diversity story.
When Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980 the population of the United States was 80 percent white. Today it’s about 63 percent white.
One demographic profile of voters by The National Journal shows how dramatically the country has changed since President Reagan’s landslide. He won with the support of 56 percent of white voters in 1980. But in 2012, when non-white voters accounted for 28 percent of the electorate, Mitt Romney took 59 percent of white voters—and lost the presidential race by 4 percentage points.
What’s striking about this election so far is that the Republican candidates did not even try to build a coalition with minority voters, young voters, or to fix the gender gap that’s been a problem for decades.
Millennials are now the largest age group – some 90 million people – and are more independent than previous generations.
The country’s diversity trend is just beginning. The U.S. Census reports that American Indians and Alaska Natives grew 1.4 percent since 2013, compared to about 0.5 percent for whites.
So if we are growing, what does that mean in a political context? Well, a couple of years ago, Malia Villegas, director of the National Congress of American Indians Policy Research Center, said population parity would mean at least two U.S. senators and seven members of the House of Representatives.
That’s the goal. How far away are we from that? Well it’s really the number two because there are only two, Representatives in the U.S. Congress, Tom Cole and Markwayne Mullin, both are Republicans from Oklahoma.
Tom Cole, a member of the Chickasaw Tribe, maybe the most important members in the history of Congress.
When the issues involve tribes, and especially tribal sovereignty, Cole is a champion. But more than that advocacy, Cole argues the case for tribes from within the Republican caucus, and, even better, within the House Republican leadership. He is a measured, reasoned voice, not just for Indian Country, but for his ideas about what a conservative party should be. And that recognizes being inclusive.
Cole has history of being the consistent inside-the-party voice calling for more money for the Indian Health system. “We have a lot of people on both sides of the aisle who recognize the Indian country has been historically underfunded,” he told Indian Country Today Media Network in 2012. And, more important, he was the architect of building a coalition in the House to enact the Violence Against Women Act. He told WNYC radio that bill was “a very difficult issue because there were divisions within his own conference that prevented (then Speaker John Boehner) from getting to 218 votes.”
Yet Cole found enough Republicans and Democrats working together to pass the measure into law.
Rep. MarkWayne Mullin is in his second term. He is a member of the Cherokee Nation and he describes himself as a “rancher” and as a “businessman.” He took over his father’s plumbing business and expanded it several fold. His website lists a variety of conservative causes, ranging from too much foreign aid to repealing ObamaCare. Mullin does talk about tribal issues from time to time, but more often is a reliable vote for the conservative factions in the House of Representatives. He’s not the kind of representative to buck his party on, say, the Violence Against Women Act.
Chapter Two: The Presidency
My focus is on Native Americans who are running for office. But you cannot talk about an election project without at least talking about the presidency.
So here are a few thoughts.
Hillary Clinton is a story that’s told in hundreds of tweets from mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers, aunts and uncles, and those who make up the larger American family. One of my favorite images of this campaign shows a young Native daughter watching Clinton walk on stage to accept the Democratic nomination.
That image says so much about what’s possible.
“When there are no ceilings, the sky’s the limit,” Clinton said. It’s line we all know to be true.
The limitless sky reminded me about Wilma Mankiller. She was fond about telling a story about the first treaty negotiations between the Cherokee Tribe and the United States. One of the first questions: “Where are your women?”
Mankiller said it was common for Cherokee women to be included in ceremonies and negotiations and it was inconceivable that the United States would come to a negotiation alone. How can you negotiate anything with only half your people or half a way of thinking?
“Where are your women?” That question has a new meaning and it parallels that of Native Americans running for and winning offices across the country. First one person wins, then another, then another, and so on. “Where are your women?” is a question with different answers every election. In state legislatures, Congress, and soon, possibly, the White House. Where are your women? The answer would be, running governments.
WHEN IT COMES TO INDIAN COUNTRY, Donald Trump is running on one issue, energy. There is probably no greater divide between Republicans and Democrats than on energy and climate issues.
Donald Trump calls his energy policy, “America First,” a new energy revolution. “President Obama has done everything he can to get in the way of American energy,” Trump said. Too many regulations make it harder to profit.
But it’s not just costly regulations making profits harder to come by. It’s also market forces. And that’s the part of the story that doesn’t fit neatly into a political debate. Drive across North Dakota, as I have recently done , and you will be struck by the huge “man camps” that were built to temporarily house oil and gas workers. Many of those camps now sit empty or near empty because the jobs have dropped as fast as the price of oil. (It’s now about $50 a barrel, up from its lows, but significantly less than what oil producers predicted.
Trump supports the Dakota Access Pipeline — a project that news reports also say he has invested in.
A political history
Remember the entire premise of the U.S. political system is that tribes are governments. Tribes are political entities enshrined in the Constitution. Yet, and this is huge, tribes are the only such political entity that does not include even minimal, structural representation in Congress.
Even before the Constitution, the Continental Congress made it possible for residents of the territory of Ohio to have a voice.
On November 11, 1794, one James White was seated in the Third Congress as a Delegate. Congress hadn’t even set the rules yet for what that meant. White did end up in the House where his role was described, as quote “no more than an Envoy to Congress” because he could not vote.
Today there are six Delegates in Congress, representing Puerto Rico, Washington, D.C., Guam, U.S.Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.
This is where Indian Country gets short-changed.
The Navajo Nation, a geographic, political, constitutional entity, is far larger and has more people than the Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa or the Northern Mariana Islands.
The thing is Congress makes up its own rules for Delegates. It’s not a Constitutional act.
But full authority or not, at least Delegates are there. Seated. At the table. Their very presence would be a reminder about the unique political status of tribal governments.
There’s another interesting thread of history: And that’s about the office of Vice President. It may be worth at least a footnote in the long history of tribal, federal relations.
Charles Curtis was Herbert Hoover’s vice president and running mate. He had been the Senate Majority leader, representing Kansas. He was a member of the Kaw Tribe,and spoke Kanza, but instead of being an American hero, he’s most known for being the author of the General Allotment Act of 1887 – the Curtis Act – the very vehicle used to rob Native people of some 90 million acres of land.
Curtis is not alone in one respect. More American Indians have been candidates for the vice presidency than any other national office.
In the 2000 and 2004, Winona LaDuke, a member of Minnesota’s White Earth Chippewa Tribe, was on the presidential ballot as Ralph Nader’s running mate for the Green Party ticket. The Greens, she said, would “stand with others around this country as a catalyst for the creation of a new model of electoral politics.”
And before LaDuke, LaDonna Harris, a Commanche, and a founder of Americans for Indian Opportunity, was the vice presidential nominee of the Citizen’s Party in 1980. She ran with ecologist Barry Commoner in the year of Ronald Reagan’s landslide win.
Another historical thread, the motivation of some Native American candidates.
After World War II there was a disastrous policy called termination – the idea of ending the federal-treaty relationship with tribal governments – there were two distinct reasons. Some believed it was the next logical step for Indian progress, an economic integration. While others hated government and used termination as a method to shrink and attack government.
Utah Republican Senator Arthur Watkins was from the shrink-and-attack government camp. He was zealous about termination, badgering tribal witnesses when they came to Capitol Hill, refusing to even consider alternatives. He dismissed treaty obligations outright. Indians, he said, “want all the benefits of the things we have – highways, schools, hospitals, everything that civilization furnished – but they don’t want to pay their share of it.”
This was a real threat and Native American leaders responded by encouraging people to vote.
Joseph Garry was president of the National Congress of American Indians during this era. In a period of about 30 years, more than a hundred tribes were disbanded and tribal governments dissolved. The result was huge losses of land and natural resources in Oregon, Utah, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Nebraska, and Texas.
Garry saw voting as the strongest weapon in this battle. So the chairman of the Coeur d’Alene tribe ran for the Idaho House of Representatives and was elected in 1957. Later, he won a seat in the the Idaho Senate, and in 1960 he sought the Democratic Party’s nomination for the U.S. Senate.
Idaho is a surprising birthplace for Garry’s legacy. Not many Native Americans live in Idaho, where they comprise roughly 1 percent of the population. But Garry’s successes there (even then) showed that someone from a tribal community could be a leader for all citizens of the state.
And it’s an active legacy. In 1975, Garry’s niece, Jeanne Givens, became the first Native woman elected to the Idaho House of Representatives. Like her uncle, she challenged the status quo with a bid for Congress in 1988. Givens lost, but four years ago another Coeur d’Alene tribal member, Paulette Jordan, ran for the Idaho House seat. She lost that attempt but two years later she won and that illustrates what may be the most important lesson in politics: You’ve got to run to win—sometimes more than once. Jordan describes Givens as a mentor who has taught her much about politics and both have earned the legacy of Joe Garry.
When a state like Idaho has a history of electing Native Americans to public office, you have to wonder, “Where else?” It’s almost been a story of success-by-stealth.
There is a win in Arizona, another in Kansas. And when you add them up, there are at least 73 American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians serving in 19 state legislatures.
Chapter 3: The People’s House
It’s easy to be optimistic about the prospects for American Indian and Alaska Native candidates in this election and beyond. Our numbers are growing, organizations are getting stronger, and, best of all, the most remarkable, talented people are giving elective office a shot.
So then I hear a voice inside: “Ahh, yes, but good people lose.” That’s true. But at the same time politics has a long arc that brings about change. It’s not one election. Or one candidate. It’s the constant push.
This year several talented people did just that. My former colleague at the University of Alaska Anchorage, Edgar Blatchford, ran for the Senate in Alaska. He ran with little money, promoting his candidacy largely via social media. He was the only Native American running for the U.S. Senate.
There are two areas of the country where it’s a question of “when” not “if” there will be Native representation in Congress. Alaska is one and Arizona is the second.
Victoria Steele ran for the House from southern Arizona and in northern Arizona, two Navajos, both Republicans, did campaign for that seat. State Senator Carlyle Begay and Shawn Redd.
Perhaps it’s an election or two away but one day … there will be Native American members of Congress who represent Arizona and Alaska.
Across the nation this year there are five Native American candidates for Congress. The two Republican incumbents, plus three challengers, Denise Juneau in Montana, Joe Pakootas in Washington, and Chase Iron Eyes in North Dakota.
Denise Juneau is Montana’s superintendent of public instruction. She’s a member of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikakara Tribes and grew up in Browning, Montana, in the Blackfeet Reservation. Juneau has a track record. She’s already won two statewide contests and knows what it takes to win a House seat. This is how U.S. politics often works: A candidate wins at the state level, does a good a job, and then she moves on to Congress. Juneau is running against Rep. Ryan Zinke. And, lately, there has been back and forth about who has been in Montana longer. Seriously.
Joe Pakootas would be the first former tribal leader ever elected to Congress.
Then in North Dakota, there is Chase Iron Eyes. He’s from Standing Rock — the center of attention for Indian Country (and for the planet). He’s an attorney. And he’s running for Congress from North Dakota out of necessity. “I take a look around and I see that our government is broken, and I feel responsible to do my part to try and fix this on behalf of North Dakota.”
In addition to Congress, more Native Americans than ever are running for state offices.
Let’s start in North Dakota. Where there is a lot of news right now.
The rush to build a new oil pipeline from the Bakken oil fields to Patoka, Illinois, was supposed to be routine. It was designed to avoid regulation, especially federal oversight, and get built without fanfare.
The Dakota Access Pipeline issue united Indian Country in a way that’s unprecedented.
But there’s another important chapter. No state in the history of the country has ever had three Native Americans running as major party nominees for statewide offices. To put that in perspective in recent years: Larry EchoHawk, Pawnee, ran for attorney general and won and governor of Idaho (he lost). And there have been a few others candidates, but my point is they’re scattered, one candidate is a big deal. So three Native American candidates, well that’s beyond extraordinary.
Iron Eyes as I mentioned is running for Congress. Buffalo for the state’s insurance commissioner. And, Hunte-Beaubrun is running for the Public Service Commission, the agency that would regulate pipelines. They are running on the North Dakota Democratic-NonPartisan League Party ticket.
Iron Eyes travels the state’s roadways pulling a cargo trailer with his campaign signs inside and on display outside. It’s probably his most visible campaign advertising. On a Saturday he made certain to park his vehicle where the University of North Dakota was playing football. More eyeballs. His fundraising is authentic grass roots. He posted on Facebook recently: “16,227 people have contributed an average of $3.80 to our campaign. Send $3.80 today!”
Three. Dollars. Eighty. That’s it. Think of what that means in a world where the wealthy write checks and buy access to politicians from both parties.
Ruth Buffalo may be the hardest working candidate in the history of North Dakota. Every time you open Facebook you see here knocking on doors, making telephone calls, or supporting the other candidates who are running. When people look at her resume, her background, she is clearly prepared for this job. As Greg Stites, a former counsel for the North Dakota Insurance Commission, wrote in The Grand Forks Herald: “Ruth Buffalo is the best candidate for the job, with an academic background essentially built for the role of insurance commissioner. She holds a master’s degree in public health from North Dakota State University. Her depth of knowledge of the health and insurance needs for our state are unmatched by her opponents. And her accomplishments do not end there.”
There is not only history, but irony, in Hunte-Beaubrun’s candidacy for the very agency that would regulate pipelines in North Dakota. She’s from Cannonball. The Dakota Access Pipeline dispute is her community; her water. Imagine how history would be different if on a regulatory agency there was one person who could object to a routine pipeline drawing.
The rules would be different “because we would have a seat at that table,” she said. And we would be able to help everyone understand culturally where we’re coming from.”
There could have been a solution without controversy.
This is the essence of why representation is so critical. We have so many states, counties, cities, where decisions have been made without even hearing a Native voice, let alone considering what’s said. That’s not democracy. And it will no longer work in a country where the demographics are changing this rapidly.
Yes, it’s historic that three Native Americans are running for statewide office. But you know what’s even cooler than that? This trend is just beginning. Even better, think about what history that could still be created. What if everyone in Indian Country, every ally, everyone who wants change, saw the merit of voting for a candidate who’s proud of contributions measured in pocket coins instead of the million-dollar access that we’ve come to accept as normal?
Next door, in South Dakota, a Lakota man is running for the state agency that regulates energy.
South Dakota Democrats nominated Henry Red Cloud as the party nominee for a spot on the state’s Public Utilities Commission. Red Cloud is the founder and owner of a renewable energy company based in Pine Ridge, Lakota Solar Enterprises. The company says. “We believe that reducing our dependence on fossil fuels is important. And on tribal lands, it is imperative. We hope you will join us in helping tribes achieve energy sovereignty.” He calls renewable energy “a new way to honor old ways.”
This is a great story to tell during an election campaign. Voters will be introduced to a creative and innovative energy path that’s creating real jobs now, employing people to build and install solar energy systems. Contrast this with the usual discourse about energy or even the nonsense about how climate change isn’t real.
Chapter Four: Shhh! Secret success
Who will be Indian Country’s Barack Obama? She’s probably already elected to a state office.
At least 73 American Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians serve in 19 state legislatures. This is important. First, if you look at the body of work of these state senators and representatives, you’ll find them advocating for better service, more funding and improving relationships between tribal nations and state governments. Second, state offices are a source of talent for higher elective office, ranging from Congress to the White House. Remember it was only 1996 when Barack Obama was elected to the Illinois state Senate.
Montana best demonstrates the growing influence of Native Americans in politics.
Twenty years ago, Montana was pretty much like any state with a significant Native population. There were only one or two Native Americans serving in the legislature. Then a Native American candidate won in 1997. And again in 2003. And by 2007 Native Americans in Montana reached ten seats in the legislature; representing 6.6 percent of that body. Montana’s population is 7.4 percent Native American. Today there are 3 Native Americans in the Senate and 5 in the House, some 5.3 percent of the legislature.
To put the Montana percentages in national terms: If Congress were 5.3 percent Native American, there would be 5 U.S. Senators and 21 members of the House. Even if you adjust for population, the number of Native American members of Congress would have to more than double to equal the representation found in Montana.
Why is Montana the model? Hard work. Good candidates. And, when neccessary litigation to enforce the Voting Rights Act.
And there’s another reason why the Native American electoral experience in Montana is different.
The 2004 election of Brian Schweitzer as governor was a game changer. “Never before in Montana’s history has an entire Administration reached out to Indians to ensure they were acknowledged, respected, and most importantly, included,” During those eight years more than 250 “First Montanans” were appointed to boards, councils, commissions and state offices, including many firsts, such as appointments to the Fish and Wildlife commission, athletic commission, building code council and health-related boards. These offices made it clear to the citizens of Montana that Native Americans were a part of the body politic.
The track record of Native American legislators is also pretty good. According to Montana Budget and Policy Center, last year’s session produced a number of innovative laws, including Medicaid expansion (which is a financial boost to the Indian health system) as well as laws that will improve funding for tribal colleges, supporting tribal languages, and streamlining Indian business ventures. The record of Native American legislators was not 100 percent, but it’s likely that during the next session many of the ideas that failed to pass will be back on the agenda.
Oklahoma is the the largest state number of Native American legislators at 14. It’s also the only state with a balance between Democrats and Republicans (8 Democrats and 6 Republicans). To put that number in perspective: Nationally of the 70 elected Native Americans in state legislatures, 58 are Democrats and 12 are Republicans.
It’s also worth noting that tribes in Maine have three automatic delegates to the legislature. The offices are similar to delegates to Congress from the District of Columbia and U.S. Territories. The practice began in 1823 and Maine tribal delegates can serve on committees but cannot vote.
Across the country it’s clear that Native American representation before state governments significantly trails the population of American Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians. For example there are 40 members serving in Alaska House and 20 in the state Senate. Yet only five Alaska Natives represented in the House — or 12.5 percent — and two in the Senate. Yet Alaska has the highest voting age population of Native Americans in the country, some 17 percent.
The growth of Native American voters — and elected officials — is only the beginning of a trend. We know our population is growing faster than the general population. And in many states there is already the number of voters required to build a winning coalition that includes Native communities.
Most of the action in the decade ahead will be at the state level. If you look at the list of some seventy elected state officials it’s clear that there is a wealth of talent such as Alaska’s Sam Kito III or South Dakota’s soon to be Senator Kevin Killer.
Look across the country and you will see why the Native Americans who now serve in state legislatures are the next generation of leaders in Congress — and even the White House.
So if you want to know who will be Indian Country’s Barack Obama, look to the states.
Her name will be Peggy, Paulette or Winona.
A final note: There are many people I want to thank for making Trahant Reports possible. Shyanne Beatty and Nola Moses at Native Voice One. It was Shyanne’s idea for my weekly commentary. Nola has been listening to one mic after another, helping me improve the sound for this program. Thank you to both.
I have also had financial support from the First People’s Fund. A special thank you to Jackie Tiller and Rebecca Adamson. Also thanks to Paul DeMain and the Native American Educational Technologies.
Jo Ann Kauffman and Kauffman and Associates was the first sponsor of Trahant Reports — so important, and so helpful, thank you.
And a special shout out to Cara and Ken Hall who gave me an unexpected “family” contribution. Thank you and that’s humbling.
And thank you to the people who listen to this podcast, the weekly commentary on Native Voice One, and the many people who read my reports on my page and across social media. I’m grateful.
We’re about to close the books on the 2016 election. But be assured I will keep writing about the policy choices ahead and what it means for Indian Country.
Until next time. This is Trahant Reports and I am Mark Trahant.
Let’s start in Montana where Denise Juneau sought out Speaker Paul Ryan and asked to meet with him. Ryan was in Montana to campaign for Juneau’s opponent, Rep. Ryan Zinke.
It was an unusual request, to say the least. And Ryan’s response was a quick no, staff writing, “The speaker was only briefly in Billings for a great rally with Ryan Zinke and other Republican leaders.”
Juneau’s pitched a “positive bipartisan working relationship” and to discuss issues important to Montana, including high school graduation rates.
That’s kind of funny when you think about it. And it’s a great way to change the story of the day.
I’ve been wondering how Juneau versus Zinke is playing on Google. There is still far more interest in Juneau, some thirty searches a day. That’s been consistent. (People must already know about Zinke because they’re not googling him.)
This doesn’t tell us anything about who’s voting, but it does show interest and curiosity. I guess no one is curious about Ryan Zinke.
Juneau also reported another fundraising milestone. She ranks 6th in the country for congressional candidates who are raising money from small donors. A small donation is considered less than $200.
Henry Red Cloud, who is running for the South Dakota Public Utility Commission, debated his opponent, incumbent Chris Nelson, in Sturgis on Saturday. According to the Watertown Public Opinion, Red Cloud made the case for renewable energy (he owns a solar energy company at Pine Ridge).
Nelson said that South Dakota doesn’t have an “optimal sun regime” and wind is intermittent. However he agreed that “South Dakota would see much more use of renewable systems in the coming years. Red Cloud said the goal ought to be for people to use less. “I’m not saying completely off-grid. No, I’m not saying that. Cutting back – cutting back 50, 60, 80 percent,” Red Cloud he said.
Oklahoma Rep. MarkWayne Mullin is chairing Native Americans for Trump.
“The daily flood of new federal regulations keep Indian Country from becoming self-sufficient. Local tribal decisions, not federal bureaucrats, are the best way to improve our communities. As both an enrolled member of Cherokee Nation and a member of Congress, I will stand with Donald Trump in supporting tribal sovereignty and reining in federal over-regulation,” McMullin told The Washington Times. (Previous: Native Republicans make their case.)
The Times said the organization includes tribal leaders from 15 states and includes former Cherokee Chief Ross Swimmer and New Mexico Rep. Sharon Clahchischilliage. She told The Times: “The Trump administration will ease restrictions on American energy reserves worth trillions of dollars. Together we will block the bureaucrats holding Native American businesses back and bring new jobs into our communities.”
Rep. Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma, is joining forces with a Maryland Democrat calling for a bipartisan Social Security commission. “Americans know that Social Security is on an unsustainable path,” Cole said in a written statement. “They know common sense reforms need to take place. And they know that duplicitous politicians and special interest groups will not hesitate to frighten the elderly with misinformation and outright lies if it means more votes or more contributions. It’s time for our elected leaders to demonstrate the same courage and common sense, and finally address this critical issue.”
So there you have it: There is still bipartisan work going on. Even in an election year. Just not in Montana.
In North Dakota a federal judge limited a strict voter identification law, one that the court said would have impacted 3,800 Native American voters.
“Voter fraud in North Dakota has been virtually non-existent,” said U.S. District Judge Daniel L. Hovland. He was appointed by President George W. Bush. He said the state “produced no evidence suggesting the public’s confidence in the electoral process would be undermined by excusing those voters who cannot reasonably obtain an ID.” The key point after the ruling is that there is a “fail-safe” process allowing voters to swear they live in a current precinct (such as north of Cannonball) or a poll worker could vouch for that voter’s eligibility.
Three other state voter ID laws were limited by federal courts. This remains a contentious issue as state legislatures try and make it harder for people to cast ballots.
One cool voting improvement is the number of states that are setting up automatic registration. According to The Brennan Center for Justice: “Automatic voter registration is picking up speed and bipartisan support. The 2016 session saw more automatic voter registration bills introduced than any other kind of voting legislation. Under automatic registration, the government automatically and securely registers every eligible citizen who interacts with designated government offices unless the person declines to register.”
It’s also possible in many states to vote early. There are now 37 states that open up polls early in designated locations (including some in Indian Country). Other states allow absentee voting for voters by request. And, in three states, Colorado, Washington and Oregon, the entire election is conducted by mail.
I particularly like early voting. It takes away the “x” factor. You know, things like, “something came up.” “I forgot.” “I had a crisis at work.” What ever. Vote early and it’s done. — Mark Trahant
My ears perked up when I heard that Hillary Clinton was giving a speech on American Exceptionalism. I cringe every time this is a topic; the idea is far too close to Manifest Destiny.
“The United States is an exceptional nation. I believe we are still Lincoln’s last, best hope of Earth. We’re still Reagan’s shining city on a hill. We’re still Robert Kennedy’s great, unselfish, compassionate country,” Secretary Clinton said Wednesday. She went on to say that “we are the indispensable nation. People all over the world look to us and follow our lead.”
If that’s true, that’s not a bad thing. But it all depends what happens over the next few weeks and months near Cannon Ball, North Dakota. If the United States is to be that “indispensable nation” it has to lead on the most important crisis Mother Earth faces, climate change.
This is not what Clinton was talking about. Her speech was all about global security, the military, and global alliances. But her words were exactly on point on the issue of climate change. As she put it: “Because, when America fails to lead, we leave a vacuum that either causes chaos or other countries or networks rush in to fill the void. So no matter how hard it gets, no matter how great the challenge, America must lead. The question is how we lead. What kind of ideas, strategies, and tactics we bring to our leadership. American leadership means standing with our allies because our network of allies is part of what makes us exceptional.”
And those should be the same themes when it comes to the global reaction to climate change.
Last year Clinton praised the Paris Climate Change Agreement. “The Paris agreement is testament to America’s ability to lead the world in building a clean energy future where no one is left out or left behind,” she said … “we will only succeed if we redouble our efforts going forward to drive innovation, increase investment, and reap the benefits of the good-paying jobs that will come from transitioning to a clean energy economy. The next decade of action is critical—because if we do not press forward with driving clean energy growth and cutting carbon pollution across the economy, we will not be able to avoid catastrophic consequences.”
So let’s be absolutely clear here: The tribal community of Standing Rock and the people downstream on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation are those who would be left out and left behind unless the Dakota Access Pipeline is stopped.
First, the United States and other nations that signed must apply “additional and more stringent measures” on fossil fuels going forward. Second, “as a result, the impact of regulation on the oil and gas sector is set to intensify.” And, third, in language that should say in b0ld, No Dakota Access Pipeline, “avoid over-investment in potentially unnecessary projects.”
The report says if nations do not do this then “investment in consumption and production of fossil fuels will continue and oil and gas companies will make risky investments to meet unsustainable demand.”
That is exactly the problem in North Dakota. The same day Secretary Clinton was outlining “American Exceptionalism,” the chief executive officer of Chevron, Steven S. Watson, was posting on LinkedIn why he thinks oil and gas are indispensable. (There’s that word again.) “Ours is a long-term business, so we know that eventually supply and demand will come back into balance and prices will stabilize. The global economy depends on it,” he says. “The energy we produce enables light, heat, mobility, mechanized agriculture, modern communications, the health system that keeps us well, and the many electronic devices that keep us connected and entertained. It’s also the feedstock for everything from crayons to contact lenses, not to mention the basis of our roads and runways.”
Watson argues that change will come slowly and even with reductions in emissions, “oil and natural gas will still account for 44 percent (of all energy use), with coal providing an additional 16 percent.”
I disagree. I think this whole line of thinking misses the impact of disruption. And, as I wrote in my recent piece for Yes! magazine, I think the events at Standing Rock are a disruption of the norm.
But that logic of “we all need more oil” is a recurring theme used to belittle the actions at Standing Rock. The line goes: Folks drive to the camps using gas; they mark up signs with oil-based writing instruments; and, sleep under fabrics made from petroleum. The charge is, “how can you be against the Dakota Access Pipeline when you use these things?”
But no one. Not the people at Standing Rock. Not the Paris agreement signers, again, including the United States, are saying we will stop using fossil fuel-based products. What’s being said and not heard is that we as humans have to reverse course. Instead of consuming more oil every year, we need to start using less, and leave more oil, gas, and especially coal, in the ground. And significantly less. As the Chatham House report says to “send a strong signal to those who consume and produce carbon-based fuels so that their investment plans can be amended to reflect the shape of a lower carbon economy.”
And especially ending the construction of “potentially unnecessary projects.”
Tim Kaine, the Democrat’s Vice Presidential nominee, was asked yesterday if he would stand against the Dakota Access Pipeline. According to a video posted by 350 Action on Twitter he replied “that’s one I have to educate myself on.” But he said the court should take the tribe’s complaint “very seriously.”
But it’s more than that. You see the Clinton-Kaine would-be-administration has already said what it thinks about this issue when it promised an energy future “where no one is left out or left behind.”
So the question is whether or not those words have meaning.
So the Native politicians get it and head to the camps to show support. To date Chase Iron Eyes and Ruth Buffalo (my apologies for not including her in the first piece I wrote) have shared their experiences from the camp. Buffalo wrote: “I have been to the spirit camp and the new Red Warrior Camp a few times. I first went as early as August 11 after co-presenting at the injury prevention conference in Bismarck. On the first trip I brought a box of fruit. The second trip, vegetables from my mom’s (an elder’s) … garden.”
And now Red Cloud says he’s taking the “pipeline fight to the PUC.” He will bring food and solar lighting platforms to the camp.
He said in a news release: “People are uniting against the Dakota Access Pipeline because it is dangerous to people, their land and certainly for our irreplaceable water. Farmers, ranchers, tribal members and just regular citizens hear almost every day about another oil spill or pipeline bursting. We hear from their own engineers that the work they are doing is hurried. We can’t allow them to put a pipeline under the Missouri River.”
“What many people do not realize,” says Red Cloud, “is that the Public Utilities Commission has an ongoing and important say in the pipeline’s construction. The Commission is ultimately responsible for approving or rejecting many of the steps needed for pipelines to pass through South Dakota, and for other new energy projects.”
There are two important reasons why regional politicians should travel to Standing Rock. First, to show support, as those Native candidates did. But equally important is for government officials to get a first-hand look. There is no substitute for hearing directly from the people at the camp. That’s what I don’t get. Every candidate for governor, Congress, current office holders, Interior Secretary Sally Jewel, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, and even presidential candidates, should travel and investigate. (I know the folks I have worked for in government would have done that. It’s common sense.)
Across the country there are political waves rolling from Standing Rock. The entire issue is forcing people to think differently about the cost of energy, not it terms of money, but the cost of healthy living. The Missouri and Cannonball Rivers are cleanup projects that never have to happen. If the right decision is made now.
But not everyone is there yet. In Minneapolis a proposed city council resolution of support turned into another version of moving the pipeline to someone else’s water. According to City Pages, Alondra Cano’s resolution called for “Expressing Solidarity With Indigenous Resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline.” The city council would “stand in support of Indigenous opposition” and support Standing Rock “in any way they can.” But others on the council see the pipeline as a safer alternative to the oil trains that Minneapolis and other cities want stopped.
That’s why this is The Moment. The idea is that we can no longer continue to shove toxic problems from one community to another.
As Red Cloud puts it: “We simply have to stop accepting and approving poorly planned and disastrous projects like this.”
And the solution is for a new era. In his election, it’s the call for South Dakota to “become a world class supplier of renewable energy.”
But that’s true in North Dakota too. And Minnesota. And across the globe.
“South Dakota has huge solar and wind resources and we can be a world leader in clean energy production,” says Red Cloud. “My vision is for South Dakota to transition away from oil and become the renewable energy state.”
In Arizona’s 2nd Congressional District, Victoria Steele fell short in her bid for federal office. A Tucson physician, Matt Heinz, won the Democratic primary with 27,791 votes to Steele’s 24,417 votes. He will face U.S. Rep. Martha McSally. Steele is Seneca.
Shawn Redd, running in Arizona’s 1st Congressional District, only earned about 3 percent of the vote and was sixth in the remaining field of six Republicans. Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu won the GOP primary and will face Democrat Tom O’Halleran in November. This district has the highest percentage of Native American voters in the country. Redd, who is Navajo, was the only remaining Native candidate in the race.
In a contested state Senate race, Jamescita Peshlakai is ahead of Steven Begay by some 1,300 votes. “I think the LD7 senate race won’t be called until tomorrow,” she wrote on Facebook Tuesday night. “Although my heart is beating like a rabbit, I’m going to try to sleep. Thank you to all that made this campaign amazing. I truly am humbled, grateful and feel good about our people, our communities and the positive forces that bring us together.”
Three other #NativeVote16 candidates were on the ballot, but running unopposed in the primary, Eric Descheenie, Wenona Benally, and Sally Ann Gonzales.
FRAZER, Montana — A couple of years ago I was moderating a debate. At the last minute, one of the candidates called in sick. But we went ahead anyway and spent the next 90 minutes having a conversation with a single candidate. It was the best debate ever. Those of us who were there learned far more about the candidate’s policies, his philosophy, and his temperament.
The Montana Congressional Debate between Rep. Ryan Zinke and Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau was not like that. It was formatted such that too many answers only left more questions.
Basically if you share a worldview of Republicans, and Donald Trump, you were probably cheering for Zinke. Flip it around, and if that lens you are wearing is a Democratic one, then it was Juneau’s night. In that way: Montana voters are lucky: There is a stark divide on just about every issue before the public.
Except, at least in this format, when the issue involves American Indian policy. And of course that was the ideal topic for a debate held within the boundaries of the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes. It was at least the third congressional debate held on a reservation in Montana (and the second on the Fort Peck Reservation).
Juneau, as you would expect, knows these issues. She grew up learning the language and the nuance of what it means to represent Indian Country from Indian Country. She said she has earned the endorsement of the Fort Peck Tribes and has the “full weight of the Assiniboine and Sioux Nations behind her.”
Zinke said he understands the contributions of the tribes and is an adopted Assiniboine. But when the issues went past a minute or 30-seconds there was a lot wanting.
The first question, for example, was from Fort Peck Tribal Executive Board Member Grant Stafne asking about a statement made by the Republican candidate for governor, Greg Gianforte, that Indian Country lacks a consistent rule of law, respect for property rights, and too much nepotism to be successful.
“I stand with tribal sovereignty, tribal government sovereignty, with tribal economic self-determination,” Juneau said. She said she recently rolled out her Indian Country priorities and has visited with every tribal nation in the state.
Zinke’s response was to align Juneau with Hillary Clinton. (This is interesting in itself. Across the country it’s usually Democrats who add Donald Trump’s name to every reference to their opponent. But in Montana, and in Zinke’s campaign, it’s the Hillary this, Hillary that.)
“The truth is I support tribes,” Zinke said. “The truth is I support sovereignty. I don’t think anyone has worked harder trying to get the Blackfeet Water Compact done, about tribal sovereignty, about recognizing Little Shell … I have been out here not because I am your congressman but because I care.” He said he has been to people’s homes, met with councils, and “been to powwows.”
This is where the time limits kick in. I’d love to hear a Republican conversation, a deep, thoughtful, complex back and forth about the issues beyond slogans. Zinke said that tribes need more freedom to be sovereign, free from Washington over-regulation. And Zinke’s tribal labor sovereignty act would do that. But why only labor unions? Why not promote complete tribal jurisdiction, the authority to govern lands and people within tribal boundaries? And, if that is the plan, then why did the Republican majority in the House so vigorously object to the Violence Against Women Act on that very principle.
Zinke proudly dismissed the Affordable Care Act “an unmitigated disaster.” When Juneau pointed out that law includes the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, Zinke countered, saying his whole sentence should include “repeal and replace.”
All that begs more conversation. How do you repeal and replace when there has never been a single Republican plan presented that includes Indian health (other than the wacky idea to open up supplemental insurance). What’s more: The main reason the Indian Health Care Improvement Act is included in the Affordable Care Act is because Republicans in the House blocked the reauthorization for a decade. Repeal and replace? Sure. With what?
And what about Medicaid Expansion? What is the Republican plan to replace that? Repealing the Affordable Care Act will take away health insurance from nearly 40,000 people in Montana. That may be the most successful component of the Affordable Care Act and it is adding significant resources to the Indian health system, money that mostly remains in local service units.
My favorite missing conversation is about coal. In this race, and indeed, across the country, it’s become a Republican talking point that Washington is responsible for the demise of coal. That Obama! The implication is that if you elect Republicans, coal will come back. The problem with that logic is that global markets have given up on coal. It’s not just Washington. It’s Europe. It’s China. And the result is the biggest drop of consumption of any natural resource in history. An election is not going to change that fact. It’s a global trend, not a political one.
Back to the debate. The format is terrible. Ideas are clipped before they begin. People will walk in and walk out more enthused than enlightened. Then again: It’s a fabulous to have a debate in a community like Frazer. Montana shows how it should be done; kudos to Juneau and Zinke for that. We need politicians to answer questions (even with short answers) in every congressional district with tribal communities. In the end: The words are not nearly as important as being there.
Update. Since Arizona’s primary is Tuesday I’ll post two more#NativeVote16 candidate graphics today. I want to make sure to give people time to share & retweet.
Crazy travel schedule ahead. Off to Standing Rock today, then headed to Frazer, Montana, for the first congressional debate on Monday. Denise Juneau, Rep. Ryan Zinke, and Mike Fellows will explore issues on the Fort Peck Reservation.
I have been searching archival material to see if there has been another congressional debate in Indian Country * as in ever * but have not found one. So this very well might be the first. At any rate, it’s historic.
The Arizona primary election is Tuesday and there are all sorts of implications for Indian Country. At least six Native American candidates are on the ballot for offices ranging from Congress to the state legislature. Three of those races are contested.
Victoria Steele, Seneca, is running for the U.S. House of Representatives in Arizona’s 2nd Congressional District. She faces Matt Heinz, a Tucson physician. Both Steele and Heinz served in the Arizona Legislature and the main issue so far is which one would be the better general election candidate against U.S. Rep. Martha McSally.
The Washington Post says this is the race to watch: McSally won two years ago by only 167 votes. The Post: “McSally is a fundraising machine and a GOP star, but her district is very competitive and at least a moderate Democratic wave could give her problems.”
Steele recently posted on Facebook her support for Standing Rock stopping the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Steele wrote: “It’s not ancient history: I stand proudly and defiantly with the people of the Sioux Nation in protecting their sacred land. Most people don’t feel the guilt of the genocide of Native Americans because they think it was something that happened in “ancient history” but it’s not ancient. The taking of Native lands simply because the invaders wanted it….This arrogant and greedy practice has been happening for more than 500 years and it is still happening today in places like Oak Flat, Bears Ears in Utah and now in North Dakota near Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. I am with you my brothers and sisters. This is wrong.”
Arizona 1st Congressional District
Shawn Redd, Navajo, will be on the ballot for the crowded Republican primary for Arizona’s 1st Congressional District. Redd trails the other four GOP candidates in name recognition and fundraising. He will also have the tough task of getting Native Americans in the district registered as either Republicans or Unaffiliated (most are Democrats) in order to be eligible to cast a primary vote.
There are three things to know about this district: It’s one of the most competitive in the nation. The campaign will be expensive. And, it’s the district with the highest percentage of Native Americans. (Previous: Big Money Targets Arizona First Congressional)
Arizona’s 7th legislative district
Another contested race in Arizona is in the 7th Legislative District. Nearly two-thirds of the voters are Native Americans, including the homelands of eight tribes. The Senate race is between Jamescita Peshlakai, a former state Representative, and Steven Begay. Both are Navajo.
Former Navajo Nation President Peterson Zah recently endorsed Peshlakai. “The universe has given me the great blessing of being able to work with a great, great man. My cheii, Peterson Zah, was our Navajo Nation’s last Chairman and first President (1991-1995),” Peshlaklai wrote on her Facebook. page “I have come to respect him more and more each day, he is humble, respectful and has a spine of steel. He believes in my leadership; compassionate and yet unyelding in the way of the warrior. I am so very honored to have his endorsement and support as your next Senator for AZ’s District 7.”
However her opponent said the endorsement was improper. “The president’s staff should be remain impartial on supporting candidates, especially when one of their own is in a key race for a Arizona senate seat. ‘Ambassador’ Zah has crossed the line of integrity by publicly endorsing a co-worker,”he wrote on Facebook. “Have Zah and other executive staff from the OP/VP used tribal property and their work hours to campaign for their co-worker?”
John McCain, Donald Trump, and the question of turnout
One thing to watch Tuesday is what will happen to Arizona Sen. John McCain. His challenger Kelli Ward said the senator could, get this, die in office. The Washington Post called it one of the “nastiest political attacks you’ll ever see.” In an interview on MSNBC with Chuck Todd she went further: “John McCain is falling down on the job. He has gotten weak. He has gotten old. I do want to wish him a happy birthday. He’s going to be 80 on Monday, and I want to give him the best birthday present ever, the gift of retirement.”
For his part, McCain has been uncomfortable talking about Donald Trump, and essentially sticks to the script about supporting his party’s nominee. (The winner will face U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick in the general election.)
Nearly a million Arizonans voted in the presidential primary in March. The stories were all about too few polling locations and long lines. It will be interesting to see if this election is anything like that one.
And one more cool thing about this election: Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission published its Voter’s Guide in English, Spanish, and Navajo. Take a peek.